A HAPPY MARRIED LIFE
A Buddhist Perspective
Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
The Buddhist Missionary Society
123 Jalan Berhala, 50470 Kuala Lampur
All rights reserved.
Copyright 1987 by the Author
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcription: Mark Blackstad
Proofreading & Formatting: John Bullitt
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the publisher.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
2. THE NATURE OF LOVE AND PLEASURE
The Buddha's Explanation
3. THE REALITY OF MARRIED LIFE
Sharing and Trust
Blinded by Emotions
4. THE BUDDHIST CONCEPT OF MARRIAGE
Role of Religion
5. THE RELIGIOUS DILEMMA
6. SECURITY, RESPECT AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Sense of Insecurity
Husband and Wife
Responsibility towards the Children
7. POLYGAMY OR MONOGAMY
8. NEW TECHNOLOGY
Irresponsible Sexual Behavior
10. THE EAST AND THE WEST
What is Celibacy?
Significance of Celibacy
Celibacy versus Responsibility
The Buddha's Experience
I -- The Affectionate Mother
II -- Moral Code
* * * * * * * *
From time immemorial, man has been preoccupied with the pursuit of
happiness in life, from the cradle to the grave. He works and
struggles very hard to attain happiness, very often without knowing
exactly what happiness means because of his ignorance of the nature of
life. Although all religions provide advice and guidelines for their
adherents to practice in order to attain happiness in life, more often
than not, these advices and guidelines are ignored owing to man's
craving, hatred and illusion. Many people who experienced
frustrations and sufferings hope and pray to find happiness for
present life and here after; others, though enjoying a large measure
of happiness on earth, are still not contented and crave for eternal
bliss in heaven after leaving this world. For the ordinary man, as
for the child, it is difficult to make a distinction between happiness
and pleasure. To him, that which gives pleasure give happiness, and to
be happy is to experience pleasure.
Very often, we consider childhood days to be a period of happiness.
In reality, as children we do not understand what happiness is. Under
the protection of our parents, we pass our days in a perpetual round
of enjoyment which undoubtedly gives us pleasure. As we enter
adolescence, changes take place in the mind and physical body causing
us to become aware of the existence of the opposite sex and we begin
to experience a new kind of attraction giving rise to disturbing
emotions. At the same time, curiosity drives us to find out about the
fats of life, through peer discussion and book reading. Before long,
we find ourselves on the threshold of adulthood, the crucial time in
our life when we look for a suitable life-partner to begin a
relationship that will put to the test all the qualities that we have
acquired earlier in life. Love, sex, and marriage then become matters
of great importance that will determine the quality of the married
life we will have.
Young people today are exposed to a large variety of "Western"
influences which are disseminated through the mass media such as books
and magazines, television, video cassettes and movies, resulting in
the acquisition of distorted ideas regarding love, sex, and marriage.
The age-old "Eastern" moral virtues and values are being gradually
eroded in the face of these influences. Practices unheard of and
never carried out by the older generation have become common place
among young people today. Are the "Western" influences really
responsible for this state of affairs or should the parents be blamed
for the misdeeds of their children for not exercising proper control
and supervision over them? In this book, it is explained that most
television programs and movies do not represent the way most decent
people in the West think or behave and that there is a vast "silent
majority" of decent couples who are as deeply religious and
"conservative" about love, sex and marriage as any "Eastern" couple.
If young people want to ape the West, they are advised to ape this
"silent majority" who are no different from their decent neighbor who
lives next door to them.
Modern life is fraught with all kinds of tension and stress.
Doubtless, very often it is tension and stress that creates problems
in many a marriage. If a proper analysis is made into the root causes
of such social problems as pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancies,
unhappy marriages and divorces, child-abuse and wife-battering, we
inevitably discover that it is due mainly to selfishness and lack of
patience, tolerance and mutual understanding. In the //Sigalovada
Sutta//, the Buddha gives good advice on how to maintain peace and
harmony in the home between husband and wife in order to achieve a
happy married life. Parental responsibilities for children and the
children's duties toward parents are also clearly mentioned in the
Sutta as useful guidelines for the attainment of a happy home. In
this book, the Ven. Author stresses the important point that marriage
is a partnership of two individuals and that this partnership is
enriched and enhanced when it allows the personalities involved to
grow. In the Buddhist perspective, marriage means understanding and
respecting each other's beliefs and privacy. The present time is most
opportune for a book of this nature to be published to provide the
followers of the Buddhist religion, in particular the young, with a
clear understanding of life's important matters like love, sex and
marriage which will not only help them to live a happy married life
but also assist them to lead peaceful and contented lives.
On behalf of the Buddhist Missionary Society I wish to express our
sincere gratitude and appreciation to many of our devoted members for
all the help and services rendered in the preparation of this book.
Our special thanks are due to: Mr. Vijaya Samarawickrama for
undertaking the editorial work, Mr. Teh Thean Choo, Miss Quah Pin Pin
and Mrs. Chong Hong Choo for their valuable assistance and Mr. Paw Oo
Thett of Burma for the cover design.
Tan Teik Beng
JSM, SMS, KMN, PKT
Vice President, Buddhist Missionary Society
Former Director, Department of Education, Selangor.
20 December 1986
* * * * * * * *
From the Buddhist point of view, marriage is neither holy nor unholy.
Buddhism does not regard marriage as a religious duty nor as a
sacrament that is ordained in heaven. A cynic has said that while
some people believe that marriage is planned in heaven, others say
that it is recorded in hell also! Marriage is basically a personal
and social obligation, it is not compulsory. Man and woman must have
freedom either to get married or to remain single. This does not mean
that Buddhism is against marriage. Nobody in this world would say that
marriage is bad and there is no religion which is against marriage.
Practically all living things come into being as a result of sex
life. Among human beings, the institution of marriage has come about
so that society guarantees the perpetuation of the human species and
also ensures that the young would be cared for. This is based on the
argument that children born through the pleasure of sex must be the
responsibility of the partners involved, at least until they have
grown up. And marriage ensures that this responsibility is upheld and
A society grows through a network of relationships which are
mutually inter-twined and inter-dependent. Every relationship is a
whole-hearted commitment to support and to protect others in a group
or community. Marriage plays a very important part in this strong web
of relationships of giving support and protection. A good marriage
should grow and develop gradually from understanding and not impulse,
from true loyalty and not just sheer indulgence. The institution of
marriage provides a fine basis for the development of culture, a
delightful association of two individuals to be nurtured and to be
free from loneliness, deprivation and fear. In marriage, each partner
develops a complementary role, giving strength and moral courage to
one another, each manifesting a supportive and appreciative
recognition of the other's skill in caring and providing for a family.
There must be no thought of either man or woman being superior -- each
is complementary to the other; marriage is a partnership of equality,
gentleness, generosity, calm and dedication.
In Buddhism, one can find all the necessary advice which can help
one to lead a happy married life. One should not neglect the advice
given by the Enlightened Teacher if one really wants to lead a happy
married life. In His discourses, the Buddha gave various kinds of
advice for married couples and for those who are contemplating
marriage. The Buddha has said, "If a man can find a suitable and
understanding wife and a woman can find a suitable and understanding
husband, both are fortunate indeed."
* * *
2. THE NATURE OF LOVE AND PLEASURE
There are different kinds of love, and these are variously expressed
as motherly love, brotherly love, sensual love, emotional love, sexual
love, selfish love, selfless love and universal love.
If people develop only their carnal or selfish love towards each
other, that type of love cannot last long. In a true love
relationship, one should not ask how much one can get, but how much
one can give.
When beauty, complexion and youth start to fade away, a husband who
considers only the physical aspects of love may think of acquiring
another young one. That type of love is animal love or lust. If a
man really develops love as an expression of human concern for another
being, he will not lay emphasis only on the external beauty and
physical attractiveness of his partner. The beauty and attractiveness
of his partner should be in his heart and mind, not in what he sees.
Likewise, the wife who follows Buddhist teachings will never neglect
her husband even though he has become old, poor or sick.
"I have a fear that the modern girl loves to be Juliet to have a
dozen Romeos. She loves adventure . . . . . The modern girl
dresses not to protect herself from wind, rain and sun, but to
attract attention. She improves upon nature by painting
herself and looking extraordinary."
Sex by itself is not "evil," although the temptation and craving for
it invariably disturbs the peace of mind, and hence is not conducive
to spiritual development.
In the ideal situation, sex is the physical culmination of a deeply
satisfying emotional relationship, where both partners give and take
The portrayal of love by commercial groups through the mass media in
what we call "western" culture is not "real" love. When an animal
wants to have sex, it shows its "love," but after having experienced
sex, it just forgets about love. For animals, sex is just an
instinctive drive necessary for procreation. But a human being has
much more to offer in the concept of love. Duties and
responsibilities are important ingredients to maintain unity, harmony
and understanding in a relationship between human beings.
Sex is not the most important ingredient for happiness in a married
life. Those who have become slaves to sex would only ruin love and
humanity in marriage. Apart from that, a woman must cease to consider
herself as the object of a man's lust. The remedy is more in her hand
than in a man's. She must refuse to adorn herself simply to please a
man, even if he is her husband. If she wants to be an equal partner
with a man, she should dress so that her dignity is enhanced, and she
does not become a sex symbol. Marriage for the satisfaction of the
sexual appetite is no marriage. It is concupiscence. (Gandhi)
Love may indeed be a product of sex, but the reverse is likewise
true: sex is an expression of love. In the ideally happy married
life, both love and sex are inseparable.
The Buddha's Explanation
We can study the Buddha's teaching regarding the feelings that man and
woman have for each other. The Buddha says that he had never seen any
object in this world which attracts man's attention more than the
figure of a woman. At the same time the main attraction for the woman
is the figure of a man. It means that by nature, woman and man give
each other worldly pleasure. They cannot gain happiness of this kind
from any other object. When we observe very carefully, we notice that
among all the things which provide pleasure, there is no other object
that can please all the five senses at the same time beside the male
and female figures.
The ancient Greeks knew this when they said that originally man and
woman were one. They were separated and the two parts that were
divided are constantly seeking to be re-united as man and woman.
Young people by nature like to indulge in worldly pleasures which can
include both good and bad things. Good things, like the enjoyment of
music, poetry, dance, good food, dress and similar pursuits do no harm
to the body. They only distract us from seeing the fleeting nature
and uncertainty of existence and thereby delay our being able to
perceive the true nature of the self.
The faculties and senses of young people are very fresh and alert;
they are very keen to satisfy all the five senses. Almost everyday,
they plan and think out ways and means to experience some form of
pleasure. By the very nature of existence, one will never be
completely satisfied with whatever pleasure one experiences and the
resultant craving in turn only creates more anxieties and worries.
When we think deeply about it, we can understand that life is
nothing but a dream. In the end, what do we gain from attachment to
this life? Only more worries, disappointments and frustrations. We
may have enjoyed brief moments of pleasure, but in the final analysis,
we must try to find out what the real purpose of our lives is.
When one ceases to crave for sensual pleasure and does not seek to
find physical comfort in the company of others, the need for marriage
does not arise. Suffering and worldly enjoyment are both the outcome
of craving, attachment and emotion. If we try to control and suppress
our emotions by adopting unrealistic tactics we create disturbances in
our mind and in our physical body. Therefore we must know how to
handle and control our human passion. Without abusing or misusing
this passion, we can tame our desires through proper understanding.
* * *
3. THE REALITY OF MARRIED LIFE
John J. Robinson in his book "Of Suchness" gives the following advice
on love, sex and married life. "Be careful and discreet; it is much
easier to get married than unmarried. If you have the right mate,
it's heavenly; but if not, you live in a twenty-four-hour daily hell
that clings constantly to you, it can be one of the most bitter things
in life. Life is indeed strange. Somehow, when you find the right
one, you know it in your heart. It is not just an infatuation of the
moment. But the powerful urges of sex drive a young person headlong
into blind acts and one cannot trust his feelings too much. This is
especially true if one drinks and get befuddled; the most lousy slut
in a dark bar can look like a Venus then, and her charms become
irresistible. Love is much more than sex though; it is the biological
foundation between a man and a woman; love and sex get all
inter-twined and mixed up."
Almost everyday we hear people complaining about their marriages. Very
seldom do we hear stories about a happy marriage. Young people
reading romantic novels and seeing romantic films often conclude that
marriage is a bed of roses. Unfortunately, marriage is not as sweet as
one thinks. Marriage and problems are interrelated and people must
remember that when they are getting married, they will have to face
problems and responsibilities that they had never expected or
People often think that it is a duty to get married and that
marriage is a very important event in their lives. However, in order
to ensure a successful marriage, a couple has to harmonize their lives
by minimizing whatever differences they may have between them. Marital
problems prompted a cynic to say that there can only be a peaceful
married life if the marriage is between a blind wife and a deaf
husband, for the blind wife cannot see the faults of the husband and a
deaf husband cannot hear the nagging of his wife.
Sharing and Trust
One of the major causes of marital problems is suspicion and mistrust.
Marriage is a blessing but many people make it a curse due to lack of
Both husband and wife should show implicit trust for one another and
try not to have secrets between them. Secrets create suspicion,
suspicion leads to jealously, jealousy generates anger, anger causes
enmity and enmity may result in separation, suicide or even murder.
If a couple can share pain and pleasure in their day-to-day life,
they can console each other and minimize their grievances. Thus, the
wife or husband should not expect to experience only pleasure. There
will be a lot of painful, miserable experiences that they will have to
face. They must have the strong will power to reduce their burdens
and misunderstandings. Discussing mutual problems will give them
confidence to live together with better understanding.
Man and woman need the comfort of each other when facing problems
and difficulties. The feelings of insecurity and unrest will
disappear and life will be more meaningful, happy and interesting if
there is someone who is willing to share another's burden.
Blinded by Emotions
When two people are in love, they tend to show only the best aspects
of their nature and character to each other in order to project a good
impression of themselves. Love is said to be blind and hence people
in love tend to become completely oblivious of the darker side of each
In practice, each will try to highlight his or her sterling
qualities to the other, and being so engrossed in love, they tend to
accept each other at "face value" only. Each lover will not disclose
the darker side of his or her nature for fear of losing the other. Any
personal shortcomings are discreetly swept under the carpet, so to
speak, so as not to jeopardize their chances of winning each other.
People in love also tend to ignore their partner's faults thinking
that they will be able to correct them after marriage, or that they
can live with these faults, that "love will conquer all."
However, after marriage, as the initial romantic mood wears off, the
true nature of each other's character will be revealed. Then, much to
the disappointment of both parties, the proverbial veil that had so
far been concealing the innermost feelings of each partner is removed
to expose the true nature of both partners. It is then that
disillusion sets in.
Love by itself does not subsist on fresh air and sunshine alone. The
present world is a materialistic world and in order to meet your
material needs, proper financing and budgeting is essential. Without
it, no family can live comfortably. Such a situation aptly bears out
the saying that "when poverty knocks at the door, love flies through
the window." This does not mean that one must be rich to make a
marriage work. However, if one has the basic necessities of life
provided through a secure job and careful planning, many unnecessary
anxieties can be removed from a marriage.
The discomfort of poverty can be averted if there is complete
understanding between the couple. Both partners must understand the
value of contentment. Both must treat all problems as "our problems"
and share all the "ups" and "downs" in the true spirit of a
long-standing life partnership.
The Anguttara Nikaya contains some valuable advice which the Buddha
gave to young girls prior to their marriage. Realizing that there
could be difficulties with the new in-laws, the girls were enjoined to
give every respect to their mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law, serving
them lovingly as their own parents. They were expected to honor and
respect their husband's relatives and friends, thus creating a
congenial and happy atmosphere in their new homes.
They were also advised to study and understand their husbands'
natures, ascertain their activities, characters and temperaments, and
to be useful and cooperative at all times in their new homes. They
should be polite, kind and watchful of their husbands' earnings and
see to it that all household expenditures were properly administered.
The advice given by the Buddha more than twenty five centuries ago is
still valid even today.
* * *
4. THE BUDDHIST CONCEPT OF MARRIAGE
In view of what has been said about "birth and suffering," some people
have criticized Buddhism saying that is against married life. They
are wrong. The Buddha never spoke against married life. However, he
pointed out all the problems, difficulties and worries that people
would have to face when they take on the responsibility of marriage.
Just because he warned one against problems in marriage does not mean
that the Buddha condemned marriage.
The act of marriage itself implies that a person is still more
attached to the physical world and since our mental faculties are
influenced by craving, attachment and human emotions, it is but
natural that problems would arise. This happens when we have to
consider the need of others and to give in to what others need.
Role of Religion
A deep analysis of the nature of self is important to help us to
understand the origin of our problems, worries, miseries and how to
overcome them. Here, religious advice is important for maintaining a
tranquil life. However, a man should not become a slave to any
religion. Man is not for religion, religion is for man. That means
man must know how to make use of religion for his betterment and for
his happiness in a respectable way. Simply by following certain
religious vows, precepts or commandments with blind faith or by force,
thinking that we are duty-bound to observe them will not develop
One important aspect of Buddhism is that the Buddha did not impose
any religious laws or commandments. The Buddha was a unique teacher
who had set out a number of disciplinary codes for us to uphold
according to our way of life. Those who follow the precepts observe
them voluntarily but not as obligatory religious laws. It is up to us
to follow the advice through our own understanding and experience of
what is good for us and for others. Through trial and error, we will
learn to follow the advice which will give us just peace and
One should try to understand the nature of the worldly life. By
knowing that you have to face problems, you will be able to strengthen
your mind and be more prepared to face the problems that could arise
if you get married. Religion is important to help you overcome your
problems. Whatever you learned about religious principle when you were
young can be adopted to avoid misunderstanding, disappointment and
frustration. At the same time, certain good qualities such as
patience and understanding which we learned through religion are
important assets to help us to lead a peaceful married life.
Normally, it is due to a lack of mutual understanding that many
married couples lead miserable lives. The result of this is that
their innocent children also have to suffer. It is better to know how
to handle your problems in order to lead a happy married life.
Religion can help you to do this.
* * *
5. THE RELIGIOUS DILEMMA
One of the causes of greatest concern among those who do not belong to
the non-semitic religions is the problem of conversion before
marriage. While Buddhists and Hindus never demand that a couple must
belong to the same religion before a marriage can be solemnized, many
others tend to take advantage of this tolerance.
Marriage, contrary to what many romantic novels say, does not mean
the total and absolute merging of two people to the extent that each
loses his or her own identity. When a religion demands that both
partners must have the same religious label, it denies the basic human
right of an individual to believe what he or she wants. Societies
throughout history have proved that "Unity in Diversity" is not only
possible but desirable. Out of diversity comes greater respect and
understanding. This should apply to marriage also. There are many
living examples all over the world where the husband and wife maintain
their own beliefs and yet are able to maintain their happy married
life without confronting each other.
Buddhists do not oppose the existence of other religions even within
the same household. Unfortunately this generous attitude has been
exploited by unscrupulous religionists who are out to gain converts by
Intelligent Buddhists must be aware of this stratagem. No self-
respecting intelligent human being who really understands what he
believes according to his own conviction should give up his beliefs
merely to satisfy the man-made demands of another religion. Buddhists
do not demand that their partners embrace Buddhism. Neither should
they surrender their own beliefs.
When young people are in love, they are prepared to make many
sacrifices so long as they can get married. But after a few years,
when the real task of building a successful marriage begins,
frustrations begin to set in. When a partner who had given up his
deep-seated religious beliefs for "love" begins to regret having done
so, unnecessary misunderstandings arise. These provide added tensions
at a period when there is boredom in a marriage. There will be
quarrels. And normally, one of the main causes of these quarrels will
be the question of which religion the children should belong to.
Therefore, it is most important for one to know that if there is a
process of conversion involved, it must be based on true conviction
and not mere convenience or compulsion. Buddhists maintain the freedom
of the individual to choose. This principle should be respected by
There is no specific Buddhist ritual or procedure to conduct a
marriage. Buddhism recognizes the traditions and cultures practiced by
people in different countries. Hence, Buddhist religious ceremonies
differ from one country to another.
In general practice, a religious service for blessing and to give
advice to the couple is customarily performed either in the temple or
at home to give a greater significance to the marriage. Nowadays, in
many countries, besides the blessing service, religious organizations
also have been given the authority to solemnize and register marriages
together with the issuance of legal marriage certificates.
By and large, the most important point is that the couple should be
utterly sincere in their intention to cooperate with and understand
each other not only during times of happiness but also whenever they
* * *
6. SECURITY, RESPECT AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Sense of Insecurity
In the past, there was no such thing as a legal registration of
marriages. A man and woman mutually decided to accept each other as
husband and wife and thereafter they lived together. Their marriage
was carried out in the presence of the community, and separation was
rare. The most Important thing was that they developed real love and
respected their mutual responsibilities.
A legal registration of marriage is important today to ensure
security and to safeguard property and children. Due to the sense of
insecurity, a couple performs legal marriages to ensure that they are
legally bound not to neglect their duties and not to ill-treat each
other. Today, some couples even draw up a legal contract on what would
happen to their property if they are divorced!
Husband and Wife
According to Buddhist teaching, in a marriage, the husband can expect
the following qualities from his wife:
-- family obligations
-- the provision of meals
-- to calm him down when he is upset
-- sweetness in everything
In return, the wife's expectation from husband is:
-- good companionship
-- moral support
Apart from these emotional and sensual aspects, the couple will have
to take care of day-to-day living conditions, family budget and social
obligations. Thus, mutual consultations between the husband and wife
on all family problems would help to create an atmosphere of trust and
understanding in resolving whatever issues that may arise.
The Buddha's Advice to a Couple
I. The Wife
In advising women about their role in married life, the Buddha
appreciated that the peace and harmony of a home rested largely on a
woman. His advice was realistic and practical when he explained a
good number of day-to-day characteristics which a woman should or
should not cultivate. On diverse occasions, the Buddha counseled that
a wife should:
a) not harbor evil thoughts against her husband;
b) not be cruel, harsh or domineering;
c) not be spendthrift but should be economical and live within her
d) guard and save her husband's hard-earned earnings and property;
e) always be attentive and chaste in mind and action;
f) be faithful and harbor no thought of any adulterous acts;
g) be refined in speech and polite in action;
h) be kind, industrious and hardworking;
i) be thoughtful and compassionate towards her husband, and her
attitude should equate that of a mother's love and concern for
the protection of her only son;
j) be modest and respectful;
k) be cool, calm and understanding -- serving not only as a wife
but also as a friend and advisor when the need arises.
In the days of the Buddha, other religious teachers also spoke on
the duties and obligations of a wife towards her husband -- stressing
particularly on the duty of a wife bearing an off-spring for the
husband, rendering faithful service and providing conjugal happiness.
Some communities are very particular about having a son in the
family. They believe that a son is necessary to perform their funeral
rites so that their after-life will be a good one. The failure to get
a son from the first wife, gives a man the liberty to have another
wife in order to get a son. Buddhism does not support this belief.
According to what the Buddha taught about the law of Karma, one is
responsible for one's own action and its consequences. Whether a son
or a daughter is born is determined not by a father or mother but the
karma of the child. And the well-being of a father or grandfather does
not depend upon the action of the son or grandson. Each is responsible
for his own actions. So, it is wrong for men to blame their wives or
for a man to feel inadequate when a son is not born. Such Enlightened
Teachings help to correct the views of many people and naturally
reduce the anxiety of women who are unable to produce sons to perform
the "rites of the ancestors."
Although the duties of a wife towards the husband were laid down in
the Confucian code of discipline, it did not stress the duties and
obligations of the husband towards the wife. In the //Sigalovada
Sutta//, however, the Buddha clearly mentioned the duties of a husband
towards the wife and vice versa.
II. The Husband
The Buddha, in reply to a householder as to how a husband should
minister to his wife declared that the husband should always honor and
respect his wife, by being faithful to her, by giving her the
requisite authority to manage domestic affairs and by giving her
befitting ornaments. This advice, given over twenty five centuries
ago, still stands good for today.
Knowing the psychology of the man who tends to consider himself
superior, the Buddha made a remarkable change and uplifted the status
of a woman by a simple suggestion that a husband should honor and
respect his wife. A husband should be faithful to his wife, which
means that a husband should fulfill and maintain his marital
obligations to his wife thus sustaining the confidence in the marital
relationship in every sense of the word. The husband, being a
bread-winner, would invariably stay away from home, hence he should
entrust the domestic or household duties to the wife who should be
considered as the keeper and the distributor of the property and the
home economic-administrator. The provision of befitting ornaments to
the wife should be symbolic of the husband's love, care and attention
showered on the wife. This symbolic practice has been carried out from
time immemorial in Buddhist communities. Unfortunately it is in danger
of dying out because of the influence of modern civilization.
In the past, since the social structure of most communities was
different from that we find today, a husband and wife were
interdependent on each other. There was mutual understanding, and the
relationship was stable because each knew exactly what his or her role
was in the partnership. The "love" that some husbands and wives try to
show others by embracing each other in public does not necessarily
indicate true love or understanding. In the past, although married
couples did not express their love or inner feeling publicly, they had
a deep even unspoken understanding and mutual respect for each other.
The ancient customs which people had in certain countries that the
wife must sacrifice her life after her husband's death and also the
custom which prevents a widow from remarrying is foreign to Buddhism.
Buddhism does not regard a wife as being inferior to a husband.
Some women feel that for them to concentrate on the upbringing of the
family is degrading and conservative. It is true that in the past
women had been treated very badly, but this was due more to the
ignorance on the part of men than the inherent weakness in the concept
of depending on women to bring up children.
Women have been struggling for ages to gain equality with men in the
field of education, the professions, politics and other avenues. They
are now at par with men to a great extent. The male generally tends to
be aggressive by nature and the female more emotional. In the
domestic scene, particularly in the East, the male is more dominant as
head of the family whilst the female tends to remain as passive
partner. Please remember, "passive" here does not mean "weak." Rather
it is a positive quality of "softness" and "gentleness." If man and
woman maintain their masculine and feminine qualities inherited from
nature and recognize their respective strengths, then, that attitude
can contribute towards a congenial mutual understanding between the
"I believe in the proper education of woman. But I do believe
that woman will not make her contribution to the world by
mimicking or running a race with man. She can run the race, but
she will not rise to the great heights she is capable of by
mimicking man. She has to be the complement of man."
The basis of all human society is the intricate relationship between
parent and child. A mother's duty is to love, care and protect the
child, even at extreme cost. This is the self-sacrificing love that
the Buddha taught. It is practical, caring and generous and it is
selfless. Buddhists are taught that parents should care for the child
as the earth cares for all the plants and creatures.
Parents are responsible for the well-being and up-bringing of their
children. If the child grows up to be a strong, healthy and useful
citizen, it is the result of parents' efforts. If the child grows up
to be a delinquent, parents must bear the responsibility. One must not
blame others or society if children go astray. It is the duty of
parent to guide children on the proper path.
A child, at its most impressionable age, needs the tender love, care
and attention of parents. Without parental love and guidance, a child
will be handicapped and will find the world a bewildering place to
live in. However, showering parental love, care and attention does not
mean pandering to all the demands of the child, reasonable or
otherwise. Too much pampering would spoil the child. The mother, in
bestowing her love and care, should also be strict and firm in
handling the tantrums of a child. Being strict and firm does not mean
being harsh to the child. Show your love, but temper it with a
disciplined hand -- the child will understand.
Unfortunately, amongst present-day parents, parental love is sadly
lacking. The mad rush for material advancement, the liberation
movements and the aspiration for equality have resulted in many
mothers joining their husbands, spending their working hours in
offices and shops, rather than remaining at home tending to their
off-spring. The children, left to the care of relations or paid
servants, are bewildered on being denied tender motherly love and
care. The mother, feeling guilty about her lack of attention, tries to
placate the child by giving in to all sorts of demands from the child.
Such an action spoils the child. Providing the child with all sorts of
modern toys such as tanks, machine guns, pistols, swords and such like
equipment as an appeasement is not psychologically good.
Loading a child with such toys is no substitute for a mother's
tender love and affections. Devoid of parental affection and guidance,
it will not be surprising if the child subsequently grows up to be a
delinquent. Then, who is to be blamed for bringing up a wayward child?
The parents of course! The working mother, especially after a hard
day's work in an office to be followed by household chores, can hardly
find time for the child that is yearning for her care and attention.
Parents who have no time for their children should not complain when
these same children have no time for them when they are old. Parents
who claim that they spend a lot of money on their children but are too
busy should not complain when their "busy" children in turn leave them
in expensive Homes for the Aged!
Most women work today so that the family can enjoy more material
benefits. They should seriously consider Gandhi's advice for men to
seek freedom from greed rather than freedom from need. Of course,
given today's economic set-up we cannot deny that some mothers are
forced to work. In such a case, the father and mother must make extra
sacrifices of their time to compensate for what their children miss
when they are away. If both parents spend their non-working hours at
home with their children, there will be greater understanding between
parents and children.
In his discourses, the Buddha has listed certain primary duties and
functions as essential guidelines for parents to observe. One of the
primary guidelines is, by precept, practice and action, to lead the
children away from things that are evil and through gentle persuasion,
to guide them to do all that is good for the family, for society and
for the country. In this connection, parents would have to exercise
great care in dealing with their children. It is not what the parents
profess but what they really are and do, that the child absorbs
unconsciously and lovingly. The child's entry to the world is molded by
emulating parental behavior. It follows that good begets good and
evil begets evil. Parents who spend much time with their children will
subtly transmit their characteristics to their offspring.
Duties of Parents
It is the duty of parents to see to the welfare of their children. In
fact the dutiful and loving parents shoulder the responsibilities with
pleasure. To lead children on the right path, parents should first set
the example and lead ideal lives. It is almost impossible to expect
worthy children from unworthy parents. Apart from the Karmic
tendencies children inherit from previous births, they invariably
inherit the defects and virtues of parents too. Responsible parents
should take every precaution not to transmit undesirable tendencies to
According to the //Sigalovada Sutta//, there are five duties that
should be performed by parents:
1. The first duty is to dissuade children from evil
Home is the first school, and parents are the first teachers. Children
usually take elementary lessons in good and evil from their parents.
Careless parents directly or indirectly impart an elementary knowledge
of lying, cheating, dishonesty, slandering, revenge, shamelessness and
fearlessness for evil and immoral activities to their children during
Parents should show exemplary conduct and should not transmit such
vices into their children's impressionable minds.
2. The second duty is to persuade them to do good
Parents are the teachers at home; teachers are the parents in school.
Both parents and teachers are responsible for the future well- being
of the children, who become what they are made into. They are, and
they will be, what the adults are. They sit at the feet of the adults
during their impressionable age. They imbibe what they impart. They
follow in their footsteps. They are influenced by their thoughts,
words and deeds. As such it is the duty of the parents to create the
most congenial atmosphere both at home and in the school.
Simplicity, obedience, co-operation, unity, courage, self-sacrifice,
honesty, straightforwardness, service, self-reliance, kindness,
thrift, contentment, good manners, religious zeal and other kindred
virtues should be inculcated in their juvenile minds by degrees. Seeds
so planted will eventually grow into fruit-laden trees.
3. The third duty is to give the children a good education
A decent education is the best legacy that parents can bequeath to
their children. A more valuable treasure there is not. It is the best
blessing that parents could confer on their children.
Education should be imparted to them, preferably from youth, in a
religious atmosphere. This has far-reaching effects on their lives.
4. The fourth duty is to see that they are married to suitable
Marriage is a solemn act that pertains to the whole lifetime; this
union should be one that cannot be dissolved easily. Hence, marriage
has to be viewed from every angle and in all its aspects to the
satisfaction of all parties before the wedding.
According to Buddhist culture, duty supersedes rights. Let both
parties be not adamant, but use their wise discretion and come to an
amicable settlement. Otherwise, there will be mutual cursing and other
repercussions. More often than not the infection is transmitted to
progeny as well.
5. The last duty is to hand over to them, at the proper time, their
Parents not only love and tend their children as long as they are
still in their custody, but also make preparations for their future
comfort and happiness. They hoard up treasures at personal discomfort
and ungrudgingly give them as a legacy to their children.
The Religion of Compassion
Buddhism is the religion of compassion, and the parents should never
forget to present it to the children as such. The Buddha taught the
Dhamma out of compassion for the world. Parents should practice the
"Four Sublime States of Mind" taught by the Buddha in raising their
children. They are:
Metta -- loving kindness or goodwill
Karuna -- compassion
Mudita -- sympathetic joy
Upekkha -- equanimity or "even-mindedness"
These four states, well practiced will help parents remain calm
throughout the difficult period of child-rearing.
This is the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings.
These four attitudes of mind provide the framework for all situations
arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension,
the great peacemakers in social conflict, the great healers of wounds
suffered in the struggle for existence; levelers of social barriers,
builders of harmonious communities, awakeners of slumbering
magnanimity long forgotten, revivers of joy and hope long abandoned,
promoters of human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that a married couple has to face is
the proper upbringing of a child. This is another aspect which
distinguishes us from animals. While an animal does care for its
offspring with great devotion, a human parent has a greater
responsibility, which is the nurturing of the mind. The Buddha has
said that the greatest challenge a man faces is to tame the mind. Ever
since a child is born, from infancy through adolescence to maturity, a
parent is primarily responsible for the development of a child's mind.
Whether a person becomes a useful citizen or not depends mainly on the
extent to which its mind has been developed. In Buddhism, a good
parent can practice four great virtues to sustain him or her and to
overcome the great frustrations which are so closely related with
When a child is yet a toddler, unable to express its needs, it is
quite prone to indulge in tantrums and crying. A parent who practices
the first virtue of loving kindness can maintain peace within herself
or himself to continue to love the child while it is being so
difficult. A child who enjoys the effects of this loving kindness will
himself learn to radiate it spontaneously.
As the child becomes more mature as an adolescent, parents should
practice //karuna// or Compassion towards him. Adolescence is a very
difficult time for children. They are coming to terms with adulthood
and therefore are rebellious, with a great deal of their anger and
frustrations directed at their parents. With the practice of
Compassion, parents will understand that this rebelliousness is a
natural part of growing up and that children do not mean to hurt their
parents willfully. A child who has enjoyed loving kindness and
compassion will himself become a better person. Having not had hate
directed at him, he will only radiate love and compassion towards
Just before he becomes an adult, a child will probably meet with
some success in examinations and other activities outside the home.
This is the time for parents to practice sympathetic joy. Too many
parents in modern society use their children to compete with their
associates. They want their children to do well for selfish reasons;
it is all because they want others to think well of them. By
practicing sympathetic joy, a parent will rejoice in the success and
happiness of his or her child with no ulterior motive. He is happy
simply because his child is happy! A child who has been exposed to the
effects of sympathetic joy will himself become a person who does not
envy others and who is not overly competitive. Such a person will have
no room in his heart for selfishness, greed or hatred.
When a child has reached adulthood and has a career and family of
his own, his parents should practice the last great virtue of
equanimity (//upekkha//). This is one of the most difficult things for
Asian parents to practice. It is hard for them to allow their children
to become independent in their own right. When parents practice
equanimity, they will not interfere with the affairs of their children
and not be selfish in demanding more time and attention than the
children can give. Young adults in the modern society have many
problems. An understanding parent of a young couple should not impose
extra burdens by making unnecessary demands on them. Most
importantly, elderly parents should try not to make their married
children feel guilty by making them feel that they have neglected
their filial obligations. If parents practice equanimity they will
remain serene in their old age and thereby earn the respect of the
When parents practice these four virtues towards their children, the
children will respond favorably and a pleasant atmosphere will prevail
at home. A home where there is loving kindness, compassion,
sympathetic joy and equanimity will be a happy home. Children who grow
up under such an environment will grow up to be understanding,
compassionate, willing workers and considerate employers. This is the
greatest legacy any parent can give to his child.
Parents in Modern Society
One of the saddest things about modern society is the lack of parental
love which children in highly industrialized countries suffer from.
When a couple gets married, they usually plan to have a number of
children. And once the child is born, parents are morally obliged to
care for him to the best of their ability. Parents are responsible to
see that a child is not only satisfied materially; the spiritual and
psychological aspects are very important too.
The provision of material comfort is of secondary importance when
compared to the provision of parental love and attention. We know of
many parents from the not-so-well-to-do families who have brought up
their children well and with plenty of love. On the other hand, many
rich families have provided every material comfort for their children
but have deprived them of parental love. Such children will just grow
up devoid of any psychological and moral development.
A mother should consider carefully whether she should continue to
be a working mother of a housewife giving all the affection and care
for the well-being of her child. (Strangely, some modern mothers are
also being trained to handle guns and other deadly equipments when
they should be cuddling their children and training them to be good
and law-abiding citizens.)
The modern trend and attitude of working mothers towards their
children also tends to erode the time-honored filial piety which
children are expected to shower on their parents. The replacement of
breast-feeding by bottle feeding could also be another factor which
has contributed to the erosion of the affection between mother and
child. When mothers breast-feed and cuddle babies in their arms, the
tender affection between mother and child is much greater and the
influence the mother had on the child for its well-being, is much more
pronounced. Under such circumstances, filial piety, family cohesion
and obedience are invariably present. These traditional traits are for
the good and well-being of the child. It is up to the parents,
especially the mother, to provide them. The mother is responsible for
the child's being good or wayward. Mothers can reduce delinquency!
Many parents try to keep their married children under their control.
They do not give due freedom to them and tend to interfere with a
young married couple's life. When parents try to control their married
son or married daughter and want them to follow their way of life
strictly, this will create a lot of misunderstanding between the two
generations as well as unhappiness between the couple. Parents may be
doing it in good faith due to love and attachment towards the
children, but in so doing, they are inviting more problems to
themselves and to the children.
Parents must allow their children to shoulder the responsibilities
of their own lives and families. For example: if some seeds are
dropped under a tree, plants might grow after sometime. But if you
want those plants to grow healthy and independent you must transplant
them to open ground somewhere else to grow separately, so that they
are not hampered by the shade of the parent tree.
Parents should not neglect the ancient wisdom based on advice given
by religious teachers, wise people and elders who have developed a
knowledge of the world through their own trial and errors.
Divorce is a controversial issue among the followers of different
religions. Some people believe that marriage is already recorded in
heaven, thus it is not right to grant a divorce. But, if a husband and
wife really cannot live together, instead of leading a miserable life
and harboring more jealousy, anger and hatred, they should have the
liberty to separate and live peacefully
Responsibility Towards the Children
However, the separation of the couple must be done in an atmosphere of
understanding by adopting reasonable solutions and not by creating
more hatred. If a couple has children, they should try to make the
divorce less traumatic for the children and help them to adjust to the
new situation. And it is most important to ensure that their future
and welfare will be taken. care of. It is an inhuman attitude if the
couple desert their children and allow them to lead a miserable life.
The Buddhist View
In Buddhism, there is no law stating that a husband and wife should
not be separated if they cannot live together harmoniously. But, if
people follow the advice given by the Buddha to fulfill their duties
towards each other, then, such unfortunate occurrences like divorce or
separation will never happen in the first place.
In the past, where religious values were highly respected, there
were greater efforts on the part of married couples -- in the east as
well as in west -- to reach an amicable understanding to develop happy
relationships based on respect, love, and regard for one another.
Couples developed and made their marriages an important feature which
they cherished in their hearts. Divorce cases were very rare, and were
considered a disgrace because they indicated the selfishness of one
party or the other.
It is a fact that until recently divorce cases were still rather
rare in Buddhist countries. This is mainly because couples considered
their duties and obligations towards each other, and also basically
divorce is not approved by the community as a whole. In many cases,
when married couples were in trouble, the community elders usually
rallied round and played an important role to improve the situation.
Unfortunately, in the modern society of today, divorce has become
such a common practice. In certain countries it has even become
fashionable. Instead of regarding divorce as shameful or a failure to
order their lives, some young couples seem to be proud of it. The main
cause of the failure in marriage in modern society is the abuse of
freedom and too much independence and individualism on the part of the
partners. There must be a limit to their independent lives, or else
both husband and wife will go astray very easily.
* * *
7. POLYGAMY OR MONOGAMY
To the question of whether Buddhists can keep more than one wife, the
direct answer is not available in the Buddha's teaching, because as
mentioned earlier, the Buddha did not lay down any religious laws with
regard to married life although he has given valuable advice on how to
lead a respectable married life.
Tradition, culture and the way of life as recognized by the majority
of a particular country must also be considered when we practice
certain things pertaining to our lives. Some religions say that a man
can have only one wife whilst others say a man can have more than one
Although the Buddha did not mention anything regarding the number of
wives a man could have, he explicitly mentioned in His discourses that
should a married man go to another woman out of wedlock, that could
become the cause of his own downfall and he would have to face
numerous other problems and disturbances.
The Buddha's way of teaching is just to explain the situation and
the consequences. People can think for themselves as to why certain
things are good and certain things are bad. The Buddha did not lay
down rules about how many wives a man should or should not have which
people are forced to follow. However, if the laws of a country
stipulate that marriages must be monogamous, then such laws must be
complied with, because the Buddha was explicit about His followers
respecting the laws of a country, if those laws were beneficial to
* * *
8. NEW TECHNOLOGY
Some religions are not in favor of family planning. They say it is
against the will of God. Buddhism does not interfere in this personal
choice. Man is at liberty to follow any method in order to prevent
conception. According to Buddhism, certain physical and mental
conditions must be present for conception to take place. When any one
of these conditions is absent (as when family planning is being
practiced), no conception takes place, therefore a life does not come
into being. But after conception, abortion is NOT acceptable in
Buddhism because it means taking away a life that is already present
in the form of fetus.
Some people are interested in the moral implication or religious
attitude with regard to test-tube babies. If a woman is unable to
conceive a baby in the normal way, and if she is anxious to have a
baby by adopting modern medical methods, there is no ground in
Buddhism to say that it is either immoral or irreligious. Religions
must give due credit to man's intelligence and to accommodate new
medical discoveries if they are harmless and beneficial to mankind. As
was mentioned earlier, so long as the conditions are right, conception
can be allowed to take place, naturally or artificially.
* * *
Premarital sex is a problem which is much discussed in modern society.
Many young people would like to know the opinion regarding this
sensitive issue. Some religionists say it can be considered as
committing adultery, while others say it is immoral and unjustifiable.
In the past, young boys and girls were not allowed by their parents
to move around freely until they were married. Their marriages were
also arranged and organized by the parents. Of course, this did cause
unhappiness in some cases when parents chose partners on the basis of
money, social status, family obligations and related issues. But
generally, the majority of parents did try very hard to choose
partners who would be acceptable to their children.
Today, young people are at the liberty to go out and find their own
partners. They have a lot of freedom and independence in their lives.
This is not a bad thing in itself, but some of these people are just
too young and too immature to see the difference between sexual
attraction and true compatibility. That is why the problem of pre-
marital sex arises.
Too much laxity in matters concerning sex has also given rise to
social problems in modern society. The sad part is that some societies
do not express liberal attitudes towards unmarried mothers,
illegitimate children and the divorcees while they are quite liberal
about free sex. As a result, young people are being punished by the
same society which encourages free mixing of the sexes. They become
social outcasts and suffer much shame and humiliation. Many young
girls have become victims of their own freedom and have ruined their
future by violating age-old traditions which were valued in the east
as well as in the west.
Pre-marital sex is a modern development which has come about as a
result of excessive social freedom prevalent amongst present day young
people. Whilst Buddhism holds no strong views either for or against
such action, it is thought that all Buddhists, particularly people of
both sexes in love and contemplating marriage, should adhere to the
age-old traditional concept that they maintain chastity until the
nuptial date. The human mind is unstable and forever changing, with
the result that any illicit action or indiscretion may cause undue
harm to either party if the legal marriage does not take place as
expected. It must be remembered that any form of sexual indulgence
before a proper marriage is solemnized will be looked down upon by the
elders who are the guardians of the young people.
Laymen are advised in the Buddha's Teaching to avoid sexual
misconduct. That means, if one wants to experience sex, he must do so
without creating any violence or by using any kind of force, threat or
causing fear. A decent sex life which respects the other partner is
not against this religion; it accepts the fact that it is a necessity
for those who are not yet ready to renounce the worldly life.
According to Buddhism, those who are involved in extra-marital sex
with someone who is already married, who has been betrothed to someone
else, and also with those who are under the protection of their
parents or guardians are said to be guilty of sexual misconduct,
because there is a rupture of social norms, where a third party is
being made to suffer as a result of the selfishness of one or the
Irresponsible Sexual Behavior
The Buddha also mentioned the consequences that an elderly man would
have to face if he married without considering the compatibility of
age of the other party. According to the Buddha, irresponsible sexual
behavior can become the cause of one's downfall in many aspects of
All the nations of the world have clearly defined laws concerning
the abuse of sex. Here again, Buddhism advocates that a person must
respect and obey the law of the country if the laws are made for the
* * *
10. THE EAST AND THE WEST
The following are extracts from a book by the celebrated Japanese
author, Dr. Nikkyo Niwano. In his book "The Richer Life," Dr. Niwano
deals with matters relating to love and marriage, both from the
Eastern and Western points of view.
"In the West, marriage on the basis of romantic love has often
been considered natural and sometimes ideal. In Asia, in recent
years, the number of young people who abandon the traditional
arranged marriage and select partners out of romantic
consideration has been growing. But in some cases, romantic
marriages lead to separation and unhappiness within a short
time, whereas the arranged marriage often produces a couple who
live and work together in contentment and happiness.
In spite of its emotional appeal, all romantic marriages
cannot be called unqualified successes. Romantic love is like
the bright flame of a wood-fire that leaps up and burns clear,
but lasts only a short time. Love between man and wife burns
quietly and slowly like the warming fire of burning coal. Of
course, bright flaming Love can -- and ideally ought to --
eventually become the calm, enduring fire of mature affection.
But too often the flame of romantic love is quickly
extinguished, leaving nothing but ashes, which are a poor
foundation for a successful married life!"
"Young people in love think of nothing but their emotions. They
see themselves only in the light of the feeling of the moment.
Everything they think and do is romantic and has little bearing
on the practical affairs of the life they must lead after
marriage. If the lovers are fortunate enough to have compatible
personalities, to have sound and similar ideas about life, to
share interests, to enjoy harmonious family relations on both
sides and to be financially secure even after the first passion
has calmed down, they will still have a basis for a good life
together. If they are not so blessed, they may face marital
"When the time of dates, emotional pictures, dances, and parties
has passed, the young married couples will have to live together,
share meals, and reveal to each other their defects as well as
their merits. They will have to spend more than half of their
life each day together; this kind of living makes demands that
are different from the less exacting needs of dating and first
"Family relations become very important in married life. It is
necessary to think about the personalities of the mother and
father of the prospective marriage partner. Young people
sometimes think that the strength of their love will enable them
to get along well with the most quarrelsome, difficult in-laws;
but this is not always true. In short, romance is a matter of a
limited time and does not become rooted in actualities and must
be regulated to conform to the needs of work and environment in
order to bind the couple together in lasting devotion. The two
kinds of love are different. To mistake one for the other
invites grave trouble."
"Giving serious, dispassionate thought to the nature of the
person one contemplates marrying, lessens the likelihood of
failure. To prevent romance from vanishing after marriage,
mutual understanding between the couple is indispensable. But
the percentage of successful marriages is higher among young
people whose choice of a partner agrees with the opinions of
their parents. To live peacefully, it is necessary to realize
the difference between romance and married love."
* * *
What is Celibacy?
Celibacy is refraining from the pleasure of sexual activity. Some
critics of Buddhism say that The Teaching goes against Nature and they
claim that sex life is natural and therefore necessary.
Buddhism is not against sex, it is a natural sensual pleasure and very
much a part of the worldly life. One may ask, why then did the Buddha
advocate celibacy as a precept? Is it not unfair and against Nature?
Well, the observance of celibacy for spiritual development was not a
new religious precept at the time of the Buddha. All the other
existing religions in India at that time also had introduced this
practice. Even today, some other religionists, like the Hindus and
Catholics do observe this as a vow.
Buddhists who have renounced the worldly life voluntarily observe this
precept because they are fully aware of the commitments and
disturbances which come along if one commits oneself to the life of a
family person. The married life can affect or curtail spiritual
development when craving for sex and attachment occupies the mind and
temptation eclipses the peace and purity of the mind.
Significance of Celibacy
People tend to ask, "If the Buddha did not preach against married
life, why then did He advocate celibacy as one of the important
precepts to be observed and why did He advise people to avoid sex and
renounce the worldly life?"
One must remember that renunciation is not compulsory in Buddhism.
It is not obligatory to renounce the worldly life totally in order to
practice Buddhism. You can adjust your way of life according to your
understanding by practicing certain religious principles and
qualities. You can develop your religious principles according to the
needs of a lay life. However, when you have progressed and attained
greater wisdom and realize that the layman's way of life is not
conducive for the ultimate development of //spiritual values// and
//purification of the mind//, you may choose to renounce the worldly
life and concentrate more on spiritual development.
The Buddha recommended celibacy because sex and marriage are not
conducive to ultimate peace and purity of the mind, and renunciation
is necessary if one wishes to gain spiritual development and
perfection at the highest level. But this renunciation should come
naturally, and must never be //forced//. Renunciation should come
through a complete understanding of the illusory nature of the self,
of the unsatisfactory nature of all sense pleasures.
Celibacy versus Responsibility -- The Buddha's Experience
The Buddha experienced his worldly life as a prince, husband and a
father before his Renunciation and he knew what married life entailed.
People may question the Buddha's renunciation by saying that he was
selfish and cruel and that it was not fair for him to desert his wife
and child. In actual fact, the Buddha did not desert his family
without a sense of responsibility.
He never had any misunderstanding with his wife. He too had the same
love and attachment towards his wife and child as any normal man would
have, perhaps even greater. The difference was that his love was not
mere physical and selfish love; he had the courage and understanding
to detach that emotional and selfish love for a good cause. His
sacrifice is considered all the more noble because he set aside his
personal needs and desires in order to //serve all of mankind for all
The main aim of his renunciation was not only for his own happiness,
peace or salvation but for the sake of //mankind//. Had he remained
in the royal palace, his service would have been confined to only his
own family or his kingdom. That was why he decided to renounce
everything m order to maintain peace and purity to gain Enlightenment
and then to enlighten others who were suffering in ignorance.
One of the Buddha's earliest tasks after gaining his Enlightenment
was to return to his palace to enlighten the members of his family. In
fact, when his young son, Rahula asked the Buddha for his inheritance,
the Buddha said that Rahula was heir to the richest wealth, the
treasure of the Dhamma. In this way, the Buddha served his family, and
he paved the way for their salvation, peace and happiness. Therefore,
no one can say that the Buddha was a cruel or selfish father. He was
in fact more compassionate and self-sacrificing than anybody else.
With his high degree of spiritual development, the Buddha knew that
marriage was a temporary phase while Enlightenment was eternal and for
the good of //all mankind//.
Another important fact was that the Buddha knew that his wife and
son would not starve in his absence. During the time of the Buddha it
was considered quite normal and honorable for a young man to retire
from the life of a householder. Other members of the family would
willingly look after his dependents. When he gained his
enlightenment, he was able to give them something no other father
could give -- the freedom from slavery to attachment.
* * *
Marriage is a partnership of two individuals and this partnership is
enriched and enhanced when it allows the personalities involved to
grow. Many marriages fail because one partner tries to "swallow"
another or when one demands total freedom. According to Buddhism,
marriage means understanding and respecting each other's belief and
privacy. A successful marriage is always a two-way path: "humpy,
bumpy" -- it is difficult but it is always a mutual path.
Young people in this country and elsewhere sometimes think that "old
fashioned ideas" are not relevant to modern society. They should be
reminded that there are some eternal truths which can never become
out-of-date. What was true during the time of Buddha still remains
The so-called modern ideas we receive through the highly glamorous
television programs do not represent the way most decent people in the
west think or behave. There is a vast "silent majority" of decent
couples who are as deeply religious and "conservative" about marriage
as any Eastern couple. They do not behave in the manner that the mass
media has portrayed them. Not all the people in the west run off to
get a divorce or abortion after their first quarrel or dispute.
Decent people all over the world are the same; they are unselfish
and care deeply about those whom they love. They make enormous
sacrifices and develop love and understanding to ensure happy and
stable marriages. So, if you want to ape the west ape the "silent
majority": they are no different from your decent neighbor who lives
next door to you.
Young people must also listen to their elders because their own
understanding about married life is not mature. They should not make
hasty conclusions regarding, marriages and divorces. They must have a
lot of patience, tolerance and mutual understanding. Otherwise, their
life can become very miserable and problematic. //Patience, tolerance
and understanding// are important disciplines to be observed and
practiced by all people in marriage.
A feeling of security and contentment comes from mutual
understanding which is the SECRET of a HAPPY MARRIED LIFE.
* * *
I. THE AFFECTIONATE MOTHER
In the Buddhist Jataka story -- Sonadanda, the Bodhisatta sings the
virtues of a mother in the following strain:
Kind, Pitiful, our refuge she that fed us at her breast. A
mother is the way to heaven, and thee she loveth best.
She nursed and fostered us with care; graced with good gifts is
A mother is the way to heaven, and best she loveth thee.
Craving a child in prayer she kneels each holy shrine before.
The changing season closely scans and studies astral lore.
Pregnant in course of time she feels her tender longings grow,
And soon the unconscious babe begins a loving friend to know.
Her treasure for a year or less she guards with utmost care,
Then brings it forth and from that day a mother's name will
With milky breast and lullaby she soothes the fretting child,
Wrapped in his comforter's warm arms his woes are soon beguiled.
Watching o'er him, poor innocent, lest wind or hear annoy,
His fostering nurse she may be called, to cherish thus her boy.
What gear his sire and mother have she hoards for him "May be,"
She thinks, "Some day, my dearest child, it all may come to
"Do this or that, my darling boy," the worried mother cries,
And when he is grown to man's estate, she still laments and
He goes in reckless mood to see a neighbor's wife at night,
She fumes and frets, "Why will he not return while it is light?"
If one thus reared with anxious pains his mother should neglect,
Playing her false, what doom, I pray, but hell can he expect?
Those that love wealth o'er much, 'tis said, their wealth will
soon be lost
One that neglects a mother soon will rue it to his cost.
Those that love wealth o'er much, 'tis said, their wealth will
soon be lost.
One that neglects a father soon will rue it to his cost.
Gifts, loving speech, kind offices together with the grace
Of calm indifference of mind shown in time and place --
These virtues to the world are as linchpin to chariot wheel.
These lacking, still a mother's name to children would appeal.
A mother like the sire should with reverent honor be crowned,
Sages approve the man in whom those virtues may be found.
Thus parents worthy of all praise, a high position own,
By ancient sages Brahma called. So great was their renown.
Kind parents from their children should receive all reverence due,
He that is wise will honor them with service good and true.
He should provide them food and drink, bedding and raiment meet,
Should bathe them and anoint with oil and duly wash their feet.
So filial services like these sages his praises sound
Here in this world, and after death in heaven his joys bound.
-- Jataka translation Vol. V pp. 173, 174
* * *
II. MORAL CODE
1. Social and Moral Code
The most important element of the Buddhist reform has always
been its social and moral code. That moral code taken by itself
is one of the most perfect which the world has ever known. On
this point all testimonials from hostile and friendly quarters
agree; philosophers there may have been, religious preachers,
subtle metaphysicists, disputants there may have been, but where
shall we find such an incarnation of love, love that knows no
distinction of caste and creed or colour, a love that overflowed
even the bounds of humanity, that embraced the whole of sentient
beings in its sweep, a love that embodied as the gospel of
universal "Maitri" and "Ahimsa."
-- Prof. Max Muller, A German Buddhist Scholar
2. Morality is based on freedom
Buddhist morality is based on freedom, i.e., on individual
development. It is therefore relative. In fact there cannot be
any ethical principle if there is compulsion or determination
from an agent outside ourselves.
-- Anagarika B. Govinda, A German Buddhist Scholar
3. Knowledge and Morality
In Buddhism there can be no real morality without knowledge, no
real knowledge without morality; both are bound up together like
heat and light in a flame. What constitutes "Bodhi" is not mere
intellectual, enlightenment, but humanity. The consciousness of
moral excellence is of the very essence of "Bodhi."
-- Bhikkhu Dhammapala, A Netherland Buddhist Scholar
* * * * * * * *
TITLE OF WORK: A Happy Married Life: A Buddhist Perspective
AUTHOR: Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: N/A
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: The Buddhist Missionary Society
123 Jalan Berhala
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COPYRIGHT HOLDER: Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1987
RIGHTS AND RESTRICTIONS: See paragraph below.
DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: February 1995
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